Revised with new information as of March
Web Site Design Suggestions for
Small Government Agencies &
other mission-based initiatives
I am not a web designer. You can tell when you look at my web site that I'm
not. My web site - the web site you are viewing now - is oh-so elementary in
its design, both because I'm not a web designer and because I want to be
able to change any page I want to any time I want to, rather than having to
call a web designer and having to wait for him or her to do it for me.
That said, I do have some very strong feelings about web design, and you
should too, even if you are not a web designer yourself. You need to
understand some standards of good design and be ready to demand them of
whomever is going to design your web site, be it an in-house employee, a
consultant or a volunteer.
Some fundamentals regarding web site design for nonprofits, NGOs, civil
society organizations, government agencies, schools and other
To learn WHY as well as how to make web sites accessible, and for extensive
links on web accessibility standards, visit Knowbility.Org
- The reaction from a first-time visitor shouldn't be "Wow, look at the
design!" but rather, "Wow, I immediately found exactly the information I
was looking for!" or "Wow, this organization does great work!" Don't
bury web page content under oh-so-many graphics and animated features
and web videos. The most important thing to remember when designing your
Web site is what your audiences want out of the site. If a Web site wins
design awards, but your customers don't use it, it's "virtually"
worthless to users. Most users will visit your Web site to find
information, not graphics; information should
drive the design of your Web site.
- The answers to your organization's FAQs
should be immediately, obviously easy to find.
- Learning what makes a good web site often involves learning what
makes a rotten web site. See websitesthatsuck.com
to learn more.
- Design your site with people without the best/latest equipment and
software in mind. Design your site knowing that some people will access
it via smart phone, and that not everyone has an iPhone. That means embracing
universal design for every or most pages and either making every
page mobile-ready or creating a duplicate mobile-ready site.
- Break up text into small paragraphs whenever possible, and break up
massive amounts of information into separate pages, as appropriate; for
instance, break up your newsletter into one web page per story, rather
than putting them all into one big file. But don't make all information
a slide show: I don't want to have to click through pages, and wait for
new graphics to download, just to finish reading something on your web
site of a few paragraphs. And I do NOT want to have to download a PDF
document to read your latest news!
- No one wants to read your newsletter in PDF. Those stories need to be
separate HTML pages so that they are searchable. PDF is only for
digitized versions of massive publications, like a 10-page evaluation
- Some people don't like to read text on their computer screen at all,
and will print out certain pages of your Web site to read offline.
Therefore, it is important that each page has basic information about
your organization on it, just as you would want any printed material to
have basic info about your organization on it (complete name of
organization, postal address, etc.).
- Avoid using large or gratuitous graphics that don't add to the
content of the page, or take a long time to download.
- Keep graphics to a minimum, and use them wisely. Graphics should
enhance the information on the site, not be just for "show."
- The World Wide Web shouldn't be the World Wide Wait. Your web pages
should load quickly for everyone, not just those with broadband.
- Many people turn the graphics function off while browsing a web site.
If you have an image map, offer a text version of the menu on the page
so such users can get to the information they want on your Web site.
- A professional designer may develop your site, but someone in-house
or a volunteer should be able to make regular changes to the site
without needing assistance of the designer. The designer should create
pages that allow these changes to happen easily.
- Make sure the name of your organization appears in the TEXT of your
web site, not just within a graphics file - and on many pages, not just
the "about us" page. This greatly increases the possibility of your site
being found when someone types your organization's name into a search
- Make sure the keywords and phrases you want people to use to find
your web site via a search engine appear often in the TEXT of your web
site, not just within a graphics file. Again, this greatly increases the
possibility of your site being found when someone types your
organization's name into a search engine.
- Much of the advice just offered makes your web site accessible for
people with disabilities and/or that are using assistive
Also see Web
Design Guidelines for Low Bandwidth. This resource is from Aptivate,
an NGO providing IT services for international development.
And check out Codecademy, which
offers FREE HTML and CSS lessons that are simple to follow and highly
useful for anyone looking to slightly edit or personalize an existing web
site. Completely new to code? Lesson 1 will teach you all of the basics,
complete with an HTML glossary and "hints" for those who get stuck. HTML
Cheatsheet and HTML Dog are
also helpful reference sites.
For more tips on web site design for mission-based organizations, visit TechSoup.
Also: old versions of your web site will be available at The
Internet Wayback Machine / archive.org. You will be able to
achieve at least one iteration of your web site from each year that it's
been available on this resource. This is very helpful in retrieving
information someone deletes off of the web site and didn't back up. It
also helps you create a record of your organization's history. Do NOT
let any web designer put coding into your pages so that they will NOT be
archived by this resource!
Coyote Communications' Web Site Resources
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